Cold Lake Library presents explorer John Dunn

Many of us have travelled the length of the Trans-Canada Highway. Some start in BC and go east, some start in Newfoundland and travel west. In either direction it’s a terrific drive.

John Dunn has seen this country too, but he goes where the highways won’t take you. And he travels on foot. 

Dunn will be giving a public presentation at Cold Lake Public Library’s south branch on February 6. His talk, titled Journey North, will include stunning photographs and videos he has taken on his travels.

He calls it “a celebration of the great Canadian wilderness.”

Dunn was living in Calgary when he began his “Journey North” series of expeditions (he currently resides in Canmore). “The whole idea behind that project initially was to find a wild route through Canada—as wild as possible—starting vaguely near where I was living at the time,” he said. “But rather than go up through the Rockies, I thought I would start out on the coast and add some variety to it.”

And so Dunn embarked from Tofino on Vancouver Island, making his way across northern British Columbia and into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The entire trip was human-powered—paddling various watercraft, hiking, or skiing with a sledful of gear in tow.

The journeys—“seven or eight different expeditions to cover 8,000 or so kilometres,” he says—eventually took him to Canada’s northernmost point of land on Ellesmere Island.

“It was never going to happen in one go,” Dunn said. “That was definitely not on the cards because of the length of time it would take.” And because of the way the expeditions were planned, he says there are a few little gaps—parts of the route that he didn’t cover.

“Which is fine by me. Somebody else can try and do it one day,” he said.

Dunn is originally from England, and he says the experience of growing up on a densely-populated island inspired him to dream of wild, open spaces. He developed a fascination with arctic Canada, even pinning a map of Baffin Island on the wall of his room while he was at university.

“At some stage I started wondering what the real wild places were like, as opposed to the totally human-altered landscape of England,” he said.

“In my early working years, I worked in the Australian Outback. And then when I moved to Canada basically the light bulb went on. I thought I could do these journeys and perhaps I could talk about them, use my photographic skills, and put it all together into some sort of a way of making money.”

His first glimpse of the Canadian arctic actually came while Dunn was travelling the west coast of Greenland by boat. 

“In northern Greenland you can look right across to Canada. It’s right there,” he said. “It was pretty exciting to see Canada across the water, and that got me interested in going to places like Ellesmere Island and other Arctic islands. And it kind of just evolved from there.”

And yes, he did eventually fulfill his dream of travelling the length of Baffin Island.

For southern Canadians, the enduring myth of the arctic’s treeless, barren landscape is that “there’s nothing there.” Dunn’s images put the lie to that assumption—the land is astonishingly beautiful with ever-changing sea ice, rocky land formations, huge skies with endless horizons, and amazing wildlife. 

Nothing there? “That’s not true at all,” Dunn said.  

“One reason I like to go to Canada as opposed to somewhere like Antarctica, is that the Arctic landscape is much more varied for the way I travel. There’s something different pretty much all the time. 

“I’ve never had the interest to go to the South Pole and Antarctica. I like the variety of the Arctic and the chance to see wildlife and mountains,” he said. “And I suppose I have concentrated generally on the middle and eastern parts of the Arctic, where the topography tends to be more spectacular.”

Dunn has been showing his images and talking about his adventures since 1988, so he knows how to package and present the experiences in an impactful way. When the subject of your talk is as huge as Canada, that means selecting the very best bits.

“If you’re talking in one hour about the whole of Canada, that’s not going to be a blow-by-blow account,” he said. “But that means you get the highlight reel of the interesting things that happened or disastrous things that happened, and the beautiful landscapes.

“There’s plenty of good photographs and lots of video clips to watch.”

John Dunn presents “Journey North” at 7:00 pm on Tuesday February 6 at the Cold Lake Public Library’s south branch. For more information call (780) 594-5101.

Boothia Peninsula. Copyright John Dunn/Arcticlight
Interior BC. Copyright John Dunn/Arcticlight
Back River. Copyright John Dunn/Arcticlight
Ellesmere skiing. Copyright John Dunn/Arcticlight
John Kayaking. Copyright John Dunn/Arcticlight
Packrafting. Copyright John Dunn/Arcticlight